There’s no event as poignant as witnessing the journey of a loved one into olam haba, the world to come. Although we know death awaits all of us, the actuality is always a grim and distressing occurrence.
It’s ironic that the reality of death is often the greatest force steering the affirmation of life. The fact that our time is limited makes the time we have all the more precious.
My friend Leah Brooks, a”h, was a unique human being who did not need any additional push to live every day to its fullest. She was filled with an intense joie de vivre in everything she did and she did a lot.
I met Leah when she invited me and my daughter, Tami, for Friday night dinner in her home. She did not know either of us but was told by a mutual friend that we were in Israel and would be spending Shabbat at a hotel. I was hesitant to go. I felt it was chutzpadik. Leah insisted and we spent a wonderful evening. I’m so glad I went because it was the beginning of a 25-year friendship I will always cherish.
Leah was a mother of two, David and Ricky, stepmother to Eric, Mark, and Tracy, and “bubby” to all of her grandchildren. When Leah met and married Dov Brooks in 1977, she felt she had met her true bashert. They joined together, embracing and learning the path of Torah. Leah had met her soul mate.
Leah had been an elementary school teacher for more than 20 years in the New York public school system. She had a Masters Degree in Special Education. She confided to me that she knew the time had come to make aliyah when she told the mother of one of her beloved (Christian) African-American students, “Baruch Hashem, he is doing well.”
Leah and Dov moved to Jerusalem where they spent the major part of the year. During the winter Leah worked as a senior-citizen camp counselor for the “snow birds” who came from the North to vacation in a kosher Miami Beach hotel program. This went on for 23 years. Leah was always the caring teacher and counselor who would go out of her way for her charges.
Leah was a nurturer who gathered a flock around her in Israel as she did in Florida. Everyone benefited from her loving approach. Her employer and dear friend Rivka called her a tzaddekes (righteous woman). Rivka was right.
Leah experienced many hard knocks in her life but she persevered with stunning resiliency. She lost her brother, Jerry; her son, David; and buried the love of her life, Dov. She suffered from a debilitating lung disease. But nothing could stop her. Her emunah in Hashem was incredible.
Recently her health had deteriorated to the point where she was no longer able to return to her beloved Yerushalayim. Although the blow was initially a bitter pill to swallow, she rallied and turned her attention to interacting with and guiding her beloved children and grandchildren in a way that being in Israel most of the year did not allow. She was proudest of the fact that her son and Dov’s eldest son were davening daily and listening to shiurim and that her grandson wanted to connect to the Birthright Tour. She wanted to be their spiritual guide.
Leah was making plans to relocate to Surfside when she suddenly took a turn for the worse. The Yiddish adage “A man plans and God laughs” proved very true indeed.
About the Author: Shelley Benveniste is South Florida editor of The Jewish Press.
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